Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Theatre of the Small-Eyed Bear Speaks: An Interview with a Playwright, a Director, and a Producer -- Part 1

Get S.O.M. is the umbrella title for a partnership of three indie theater companies, who are producing three plays in repertory in May at the WorkShop Theatre. The companies are Theatre of the Expendable, Small Pond Entertainment, and Cross-Eyed Bear Productions; the plays they are mounting (respectively) are Mare Cognitum by David McGee, Squiggy and the Goldfish by Lenny Schwartz, and Ore, or Or by Duncan Pflaster. In today’s declining economy it’s getting harder and harder for indie theatre companies to be able to afford to produce their work in New York City. These three companies have banded together to share production costs, performance space, design teams, and resources to present these three shows.

I asked the three men who are the principals of this unusual partnership to talk to the Good News Theatre Blog about their producing model. They've obliged with great generosity. So I'm turning over the nytheatre i today and tomorrow to Jesse Edward Rosbrow (TOTE), Michael Roderick (Small Pond), and Duncan Pflaster (Cross-Eyed Bear). In today's segment, we talk about how this collaboration came to be, and the special "extra" events they're offering apart from the three mainstage productions.

Me: Gentlemen, congratulations on this exciting endeavor. Can you each talk about how this collaboration came to be? How did you guys meet? How did you decide to work together in this innovative way?

DUNCAN: I've known Michael for several years and we've always been on each other's periphery, but we've never worked together till now. Jesse I met last year when Theatre of the Expendable did a workshop of my play Ore, or Or as part of their New Works Festival in the dark nights of their production of Three Sisters. Jesse and Michael came up with the idea for this repertory merger, and invited me along for the ride.

MICHAEL: I had been doing networking parties for Indie Theatre companies and at the time, I was working with a board member of TOTE who suggested that Jesse come and be a part of our networking evening. I invited him along and got to meet the gang and eventually got to see one of TOTE's productions and was really impressed. I subsequently invited TOTE to be part of any other networking event I had coming up. Duncan's company also participated in my networking parties. He also was part of the first Producer's Sprint where four producers put up brand new shows in one week and his show was part of TOTE's reading series that was going on during their production of Three Sisters.

At Three Sisters, Jesse had mentioned to me that he wanted to sit down and talk about producing with me at some point. We met at the Tea Spot in the West Village and started discussing how difficult the times were and how we each had shows we wanted to produce, but knew that there were limited resources. I had mentioned how I really wanted to direct Squiggy and the Goldfish, but I wasn't going to produce it on my own, so I asked if he'd be interested in joining forces and perhaps putting our shows in rep. We then decided that it would make even more sense if we got three companies together at which point we both thought that Duncan's company would be a great choice since TOTE had already done a reading of Duncan's show. We realized that each of the shows we wanted to produce had a magical realism quality so we decided that it'd be really cool to do all three in rep. We then brought on a few associate producers to help us and broke down duties and started getting this thing going as well as getting it into the press and building buzz.

JESSE: Mike and I were getting coffee one day, and were brainstorming about the problems our companies were facing. 2008 was a watershed year for Theatre of the Expendable, and I was trying to figure out how we could do at least as much if not more with less funding. One of the ideas I'd already had was to put up a few shows in rep (perhaps including a remounting of Mare Cognitum, which we produced and I directed in the 2008 New York International Fringe Festival). Doing this could cut many costs for us, but still might cost a bit too much on its own, and it would likely also require a larger producing infrastructure than we had. Mike mentioned that he'd been bitten by the directing bug for the first time in a while, and wanted to direct Squiggy and the Goldfish, but that since he'd be directing it as well as producing he'd need some kind of other serious producer on board to shoulder some of the producing jobs. We realized, hey, the solution to these two problems is the same one.

Then we thought, well, can we find a third company who might want to get involved in this with us? We immediately knew which company was the obvious choice – Cross-Eyed Bear Productions, Duncan Pflaster's company. Mike and I both know Duncan – in fact, Mike introduced Duncan to me – and this play of his, Ore, or Or, was one which Theatre of the Expendable produced a staged reading of in our First Annual New Works Festival back in 2008. So, we jumped on asking Duncan if this sounded like as good of an idea to him as it sounded to us, and the answer was, "Yes!"

Me: I know there are many other events scheduled as part of this group “repertory season” in addition to the three plays. Can you tell us more about them?

JESSE: Sure! We're also presenting our Arts in Action series, which are a slew of interactive works where our audiences can become involved in facets of this repertory merger. For example, we have interactive readings of short plays by the authors of our three mainstage productions – where a director will present a reading of a short play that has already been rehearsed with a cast, but then the plays will be read a second time with volunteers from the audience, with the assistance of the director, taking over the roles. We'll have panel discussions on aspects of our mainstage plays, as well as a panel discussion and a mixer for producers, where the producers of this project as well as other collaborative projects like this one will be on hand to explain how we managed to do this and offer advice to other producers who are considering ventures like this. We'll have a playwriting workshop where people will be helped through the process of writing short plays based upon the themes of the three mainstage plays, after which their short plays will then be rehearsed and will have readings where they can invite people to see and hear their work. And, too, we're going to have events where the audience will be encouraged to stay after a performance and have a drink with the playwright – and, if they want, challenge the playwright to a drinking game based upon the themes of their play.

DUNCAN: The Arts In Action series will include post-show Q&As with the playwrights on selected nights (which will be in the form of drinking games- mine involves haiku), a poetry workshop, a playwriting workshop, readings of other plays by the playwrights that share themes with the main play (mine is Six Silences in Three Movements, a one-act which I was working on around the same time as Ore, or Or, and has a lot of the same theatrical elements- much like Thornton Wilder's The Happy Journey to Trenton and Camden has elements in common with Our Town). We've also just added a Producer's Panel, which should be very interesting.

MICHAEL: There is an "Arts in Action" series which you can read more about on the website http://www.totseb.com/. This will involve audience memebers seeing new plays by the playwrights as well as getting a chance to act and be part of the development experience. We also have drinking games with the playwrights, a panel on collaborative producing and much more. I'm excited that the education element will be included in this process as I have a real passion for adding educational experiences to the viewing of the work. I am happy that Ore's director Laura Moss volunteered to head this up as it is also a big undertaking.

The plays comprising GET S.O.M.! are: Mare Cognitum, Squiggy and the Goldfish, and Ore, or Or. Check back tomorrow for Part 2 of the interview, which is about roles, dividing up the work, and lessons learned.

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